Hoffman joined 50-save club on Sept. 14, 1998

Padre was the fourth closer to post a 50-save season

June 24th, 2018

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Trevor Hoffman calls it a "heavy" number.

"In baseball, it is one of those numbers that is a benchmark," Hoffman recalled recently. "It is meaningful in a number of areas."

So as Hoffman approached 50 saves in 1998, he did think about the milestone . . . as well as another.

"As I was getting close to 50 saves, Greg Vaughn was nearing the first 50-home-runs season in Padres history," said Hoffman. "I started wondering whether any team had a 50-save closer and a 50-home run hitter in the same season."

The answer at that exact moment was "No!"

In fact, there had been only three previous 50-save seasons in Major League history. Bobby Thigpen of the Chicago White Sox was the first with 57 saves in 1990. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A's saved 51 games in 1992. And Randy Myers of the Chicago Cubs set the then National League record of 53 saves with the Chicago Cubs in 1993.

Hoffman set the stage for becoming the fourth closer to reach the 50-save milestone on Sept. 12 when he pitched a scoreless ninth against the Dodgers at Qualcomm Stadium to record No. 49.

Two days later, he again trotted in from the Qualcomm Stadium bullpen to the chimes of Hells Bells to protect a 4-3 lead against the Chicago Cubs.

"I was aware it was No. 50," recalls Hoffman. "I was proud about how we had reached the milestone . . . almost unscathed." Hoffman had failed on only one previous save opportunity in his first 50 chances.

Hoffman would need only seven pitches to retire the Cubs in order to become the fourth pitcher to reach 50 saves in a season.

Gary Gaetti led off the Cubs' ninth and grounded out to third. Mickey Morandini lined out to Vaughn in left on the first pitch he saw. Hoffman then struck out pinch-hitter Henry Rodriguez on a 1-and-2 count.

Hoffman had just widened a select circle.

Later, Hoffman started thinking about the other 50. Vaughn hit his 49th homer earlier in the game when Hoffman recorded his 50th save. Had any team ever had a 50-home run hitter and a 50-save closer in the same season?

On Sept. 14, the answer was no. Twelve days later, the answer turned to yes when Rod Beck of the Chicago Cubs reached the 50-save plateau with Sammy Sosa already well beyond 50 homers.

Vaughn hit his 50th homer on the final day of the season when Hoffman tied the National League record with his 53rd save of the season. "That Vaughnie and I both reached 50 in the same season was a nice touch," said Hoffman.

The 50 saves still leaves Hoffman a member of two select clubs. There are only 16, 50-save seasons in Major League history. And only three teams, including the Padres, have had a 50-save closer and a 50-home run hitter in the same season.